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The controversial matter of whether or not riders should be allowed on the roads was debated on BBC Essex earlier this week.

Radio presenter Dave Monk discussed the topic on Tuesday (4 July), the same day that the House of Commons considered Debbie Smith’s petition, “Make it law to pass by a horse wide and slow and abide by riders’ hand signals” (news, 30 June).

Claire Lilly of Canewdons Equestrian road safety group spoke on the show about Essex-based rider Laura Thorogood’s accident in November last year. Laura’s horse Angel was hit by a car and put down due to the severity of her injuries.

“Why are horses being ridden on the roads in the first place?” asked Dave.

Claire stressed that riders didn’t have much choice.

“We’ve lost quite a lot of bridleways and we need to take short stretches on roads in order to make the connection,” she said.

“It’s the same with footpaths. There are no verges for horses to be ridden on in order to access these areas so it’s not that simple and our bridleways are depleting.”

Dave then asked why riders didn’t use horseboxes to access bridleways.

“Not everyone can afford a horsebox and not only that, where do we stop with this?” replied Claire. “Do we just let drivers crack on and drive along at 60mph or do we share our roads?”

“A large proportion of people do own horses or enjoy that past time. Horses have a good impact on many peoples’ lives – if you look at the work they do with veterans or with children with challenges — they’re amazing creatures and they deserve to be looked after and they’re accompanied by a rider, just a bicycle would be accompanied by a rider or someone that’s out enjoying the countryside. We all need to be protected.

“As far as I am concerned it’s quite simple — they’ve got motorways — we’re not allowed to go on those. The countryside needs to be preserved and so does our country lifestyle.”

Teaching riders

Dave also spoke to Walter Brinzer, the owner of Chelmsford Equestrian Centre.

“We need to recognise that horse riders and the road are equal partners, as are many other users of the road,” Walter said. “Riders are particularly vulnerable, not just because they are on the road moving slowly, but because they are on a large animal that is unpredictable.

“The BHS [British Horse Society] has a range of courses and qualifications that people can do to improve their road safety knowledge. But in practical terms the time we come into contact with the rider is often for a relatively short time and they go off later on to own a horse and go on to the road.

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“One must be careful not to put all the blame on the rider. We must all responsible and take due care.”

Mr Brinzer added that he thought the new law proposed by Debbie Smith was a “brilliant idea”.

“It will be difficult to enforce but on the other hand if it forces people to think and be careful around horses that’s what we need as a vulnerable road user.”